boy jumping on trampolines at Better Extreme Waltham Forest

Review: Better Extreme Trampoline Park & Soft Play, Waltham Forest

“Mummy this is really, really, really, really cool!”

boy jumping on trampolines at Better Extreme Waltham Forest

It’s fair to say that the tramplolines at Better Extreme in Walthamstow got a big thumbs up from my 4 year old. He loved it so much he’s been asking to go back ever since and we’re planning to go again very soon. At first he was skeptical when I told him we’d be visiting a new play centre as he’s pretty attached to the ones we already go to, but the promise of lots of trampolines all linked together was enough to persuade him.

The Better Extreme facilities at the Waltham Forest Feel Good Centre have only been open since October 2016 which probably explains why I hadn’t heard of them until we were invited to visit and try out the trampolines and soft play. I have to say, I was really impressed when we arrived as the new centre is huge, very modern, clean and has excellent facilities (more on that later).

They run a Soft Play and Tots Tramp session for children under 5 years old every Monday and Wednesday at 10am – 1pm and this gives you access to a soft play area which is especially for under 5s and the trampolines. You receive a wristband and have access to the soft play and trampolines for 60 minutes. It’s worth noting that under 5s are not normally allowed on the trampolines at other times when it is being used by older children. We headed to the soft play area first, it is in its own room which makes it nice and secure as the little ones can’t run off. Bonus.

Under 5s Soft Play Centre Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

There’s also some tables and chairs you can sit at and (hopefully) enjoy a coffee for five minutes while they burn off some energy (the cafe is just outside). There’s also a large toilet with baby changing facilities in the room too which is very handy.

boys in soft play Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

There are three levels to explore and my 1 year old loved the ball pit and colour-changing lights on the ground floor while the 4 year old loved racing up to the top of the play structure. It’s not massive but it has plenty to amuse a 4 year old for an hour or two.

Boy in Under 5s Soft Play Centre Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

We were there on a Wednesday around midday and although there were a few children in there when we first arrived, we soon had the place to ourselves. This makes a nice change from the noisy, busy soft play centres we usually go to.

boy looking at trampolines Boy at Better Extreme Waltham Forest

I had to drag my son away to get him to come and try out the trampolines which are in the Extreme Park bit of the centre. Before you enter you have to sign some forms and get your special trampolining socks which are £2 but you can keep them and use them again. We were told that we would have to watch a safety video before we were allowed to use the equipment but it was only afterwards that I realised we had never actually watched this, so I’m not sure at what point that was supposed to happen. Once inside, again it was very quiet with only a couple of other children which meant we had most of it to ourselves.  There are 23 floor trampolines and 11 wall ones which are all joined together and my son loved being able to bounce from one trampoline to the next. It was great fun and proved quite a workout for all of us.

Baby boy on trampoline at Better Extreme Waltham Forest

My one year old loved it as well and found the whole thing hilarious, giggling the entire time. Our time seemed up all too soon and my son would definitely have stayed on longer. Luckily, there’s a great little cafe in the centre just next to the trampolines so we stayed and had lunch as it certainly works up an appetite. Like most parents, I’m worried about the fact that my son would often rather be playing with some sort of screen (yes, already!! Urgh!) so I loved the fact that he was getting lots of exercise and enjoying himself at the same a time.

Better Extreme at Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

The Better Extreme section of the centre also has some other amazing facilities which we had a quick look at although they weren’t open at the time. There’s an ‘Extreme’ 4 storey soft play section for children over 5 which looks great and I love the fact that it is entirely separate from the soft play for the little ones. As other mums will know, it’s really frustrating when older children crash around the areas meant for smaller children and knock into them. There’s also a Clip and Climb area with 11 different climbing structures which looks brilliant and I’ll be bringing my son along to give it a go when he’s a bit older (climbing starts from 5 years old). And there’s a Ninja Run, an extreme obstacle course with foam pits which looks fun and is for children over 8 years old.

Swimming pool at Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

I was also lucky enough to have a look around the rest of the centre and there’s so much more going on including a huge gym, fitness studios, a running track and two swimming pools – one a 25 metre pool with dive boards and the second one was a small teaching pool perfect for babies and small children. The real surprise for me was the lovely spa – if you’ve been to one in a gym before they can often feel quite utilitarian but this one actually feels luxurious. Other family-friendly features include a buggy park which is very useful if you’re arriving by public transport, birthday party facilities and a creche for under 5s. You can use the creche for up to 2 hours and it’s included in some membership packages.

Boy jumping on trampolines at Better Extreme, Feel Good Centre Waltham Forest

Overall, I was super impressed with the Feel Good Centre Waltham Forest. I’m surprised more people don’t know about it as it was very quiet in the week. I understand it is busier at weekends and school holidays but if you have pre-schoolers it’s a great place to visit mid-week. The only issues I have are that some of the prices are quite high for a single session. While the Soft Play & Tots Tramp session is £4.65, normal soft play prices  are quite a bit more than others in the area and sessions are limited to 60 minutes which is less time than most as well. If you drive you have to pay for parking (remember to bring change) so that, combined with the entry cost if you’re bringing a few kids, can add up. Also, after visiting the centre and seeing all the great things on offer it seems like the website does not make it easy to see the variety of things you could do. So I’d recommend going down and asking to have a look around. But we’ll definitely be back, my son is desparate to go on the trampolines again and we all want to try out the pool. And I’m just waiting for an opportunity to visit that spa without the kids!

Soft Play & Tots Tramp: Ages 6 months – 5 years

Term Time: Monday & Wednesday 10am-1pm

Summer Holidays (24 July – 31 August) Every week day 10am – 11am

PRICE: £4.65. Trampoline socks £2 (obligatory)

Parking £1 an hour for non-members, members receive a discount and can buy permits.

For more information including prices visit the Better Extreme Website or Feel Good Centre Waltham Forest Website.

We were invited to attend the Better Extreme centre for free in exchange for a review. However, all views are my own and completely honest.

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Tyranosauraus Rex and triceratops egg at Jurassic Kingdom Osterley Park

Review: Jurassic Kingdom dinosaur exhibition, Osterley Park

Tyranosauraus Rex and triceratops egg at Jurassic Kingdom Osterley Park

“Wow, that’s amazing!” A huge roaring Tyrannosaurus rex greeted us as we arrived at Jurassic Kingdom and the three year old was clearly impressed from the start. The Jurassic Kingdom dinosaur trail is an outdoor exhibition of animatronic and static dinosaurs. There are huge ones towering over you, baby ones hatching out of eggs and hungry-looking ones clawing and fighting each other all along a woodland trail.

Jurassic Kingdom is a touring touring exhibition and we visited it in the first few days at its launch location at the National Trust property of Osterley Park, West London. It will be there until 17th April before touring around the country (see tour locations and dates below).

Osterley House, location of Jurassic Kingdom dinosaur exhibition

They dinosaur models are fairly good; quite realistic and the ones that move usually also have an impressive roar. Our son was a bit frightened by some of the louder roars but he just asked to move away to look at them from a bit of a distance, and he can be a bit overly sensitive. Plenty of children younger then him seemed to be loving it and roaring loudly back! Most of the dinosaurs are roped off and you’re asked not to touch them but there are some smaller ones that you can climb on along the route or dinsaur eggs that you can pose inside for photos. The majority of them – mostly the larger dinosaurs – have signs with details of their names and some information about where they lived and what they ate etc. Personally I think it would have been good if all of them had labels, or at least names, as our son kept asking what they were all called and I’m a bit rubbish at remembering! We were impressed by the amount of dinosaurs he did recognise though and it never ceases to amaze me how little kids, including ours, can remember the really complicated dinosaur names that I can barely pronounce.

There was also an area that I thought was just a sandpit – I steered our son past it quite quickly as I knew he’d want to take his socks and shoes off and I was reluctant as it was a cold day. However, I’ve since read online that it was actually supposed to be a T-Rex excavation pit but it really wasn’t very clear and they could have had some better signage. We probably would have had a go if we had realised.

Pterodactyl or pterosaurs dinosaurs at Jurassic Kingdom, Osterley Park

Along the trail there are woodlands and a den building area as well as some swings to play on, so lots of natural attractions to amuse the kids apart from the dinosaurs. The bluebells are also starting to make an appearance in the woodland and there’s even a nesting swan very close to the path that the children were all intrigued by.

There’s a small marquee labelled as an education area which has a few chairs in and shows a film about dinosaurs if you need a sit down and a rest on the way. There are also a few toilets dotted along the route.

Diplodocus dinosaur at Jurassic Kingdom, Osterley Park

At the way in and out of the trail, along with a virtual reality ride (an extra £5), a merchandise stall and toilets, there are some food vans. Although these were advertised as “mouth-watering street food vans” online it seemed to be fairly standard van food like chips, coffee and sweets so nothing that was very appealing and I was glad we had brought a picnic. Tickets are not cheap when there is a whole family visiting, so we weren’t alone in bringing our own lunch. And unlike some short-sighted attractions, there are no restrictions on bringing your own food which is great. There are a few logs and picnic tables dotted along the trail but it’s probably a good idea to bring a blanket as they were all busy – they could definitely do with a few more. Half way along the trail there were a few more vans selling drinks and churros and, as we love churros, we shelled out an extortionate £6 for a large portion which turned out to be cold and tastelesss so I’d definitely give those a miss. (I know, we’re mugs!)

Dinosaurs fighting, Jurassic Kingdom at Osterley Park

You are asked to specify an hourly entrance time when you purchase tickets and when we arrived at about 11am the trail was very busy. However, it never felt overly crowded and it seemed like there was a steady stream of people arriving throughout the day. Also, nobody seemed to be actively checking our time slot so I think this is more to help stagger visitors rather than something they are really strict about. The trail seemed to appeal to both girls and boys alike with kids of both sexes running around excitedly. (This made me happy as far too often dinosaurs seem to be marketed mostly at boys for some reason.)

Animatronic dinosaurs at Jurassic Kingdom Osterley Park

We spent about three hours doing the trail at a very leisurely pace and with a long stop for our picnic lunch. So you could obviously do it a lot quicker if you needed to or you can stay longer as there is no time limit once you are inside. You could also spend some time looking around Osterly House itself, there’s a National Trust cafe outside the trail if you want something other than the food from vans and the Cadbury Easter egg hunt is taking place in the gardens at the other side of the house. However, our Little One was pretty exhausted by the long walk and the excitement so he was happy to head home full of chat about his favourite dinosaurs.

I’d definitely recommend a visit for any little ones who like dinosaurs and, even for children with only a passing interest, it’s a great way to get the kids out and about in the fresh air enjoying the gardens and woodland.

Diplodocus at Jurassic Kingdom Osterley Park

Parking is provided in fields next to Osterley Park and it is worth noting that the walk to the entrance of Jurassic Kingdom at the side of the house is quite long for little ones and ours was not the only one complaining how far it was. However, it will be no problem for older kids and I just wish we had remembered to bring the buggy board. The whole trail is suitable for prams and is a flat, easy walk.

Jurassic Kingdom will be at Osterley Park until 17th April and then will be embarking on a UK tour.

OPENING TIMES

10am to 6pm (last entry at 5pm). Entry is by hourly time slots but once  inside you can stay as long you wish.

ADDRESS & GETTING THERE

Osterley Park, Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex, TW7 4RB (sat nav TW7 4RD).

There is parking on site which is an extra £7 which I think is pretty steep on top of the cost of tickets – be warned it’s cash only! It took us about an hour and twenty minutes to drive from Woodford Green.

If you want to take public transport the nearest tube is Osterley on the Picadilly line and its only a 1 mile walk away. Isleworth train station is 1½ miles away. You can catch the H28 Hayes to Hounslow to Osterley, or the H91 Hounslow to Hammersmith to within 1 mile.

TICKET PRICES

London:

£13.50 adults online, £15 on the door

£11.50 Child online, £13 on the door (Under threes go free)

£46 Family Ticket, £52 on the door

Prices are cheaper for the rest of the tour at the other locations in the UK!

The Cadbury Easter Egg hunt costs an additional £3.

JURASSIC KINGDOM UK TOUR DATES

Birmingham 20th May – 4th June

Manchester 8th – 23rd July

Blackpool 5th – 13th August

Glasgow 26th August – 10th September

Newcastle 23rd September – 1st October

Leeds 14th – 29th October

MORE INFORMATION

Jurassic Kingdom website

Osterley Park website

What’s on this Easter in West Essex: Easter Egg hunts and Easter Bunny spotting

**THIS POST IS FROM 2016 – TO FIND OUT WHAT’S ON FOR EASTER 2017 VISIT EASTER EGG HUNTS & EASTER ACTIVITIES 2017 **

With Easter being early this year, it seems to be racing towards us faster than ever, so here are some ideas for Easter activities for children in Epping, Wanstead, Chigwell and around Essex. There are lots of Easter egg hunts happening locally and quite a few kids activities require booking in advance so if you want to catch the Easter Bunny you might want to get booking.

LITTLE DUKE’S EASTER EGG HUNT, WANSTEAD

The Duke pub in Wanstead continues to arrange some great kids and community events with their Kick  Little Duke’s Easter Egg Hunt on Good Friday.

Dates: 25 March 2016
Times: 10am- 12 MIDDAY
Tickets: £3 per child, booking via Eventbrite (link coming soon)
Address: The Duke pub, 79 Nightingale Ln, London E11 2EY
Further information: The Duke Wanstead Facebook page or call 020 8989 0014 or email events@thedukewanstead.com

EASTER ADVENTURE QUEST, AUDLEY END HOUSE

There’ll be a chocolate reward at the end of this Easter quest where children will need to crack the clues with the help of characters from the past  – maybe a king, a butler, a Roman centurion or even a monk.

Dates: 25-28 March 2016
Times: 11am- 4pm
Tickets: Child (5-15 years) £9.60, Adults £16, Family £41.60, English Heritage Members free
Address: Audley End House and Garden, Off London Road, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4JF
Further information: Audley End House and Garden website 0870 3331181

EASTER EGG HUNT, EPPING ONGAR RAILWAY

Billed as Essex’s longest Easter Egg Hunt there are eggs hidden along the length of the railway track from Ongar through to Coopersale, which is the length of 131,579 eggs placed end to end!

Children will be asked to find the eggs which have been hidden by Bertie around the Railway. They will have some clues to help them and any child who completes their egg sheet is entitled to a special Easter prize. Look out for the Easter Bunny who will be out and about the stations and this year will have his own special train! And there’ll be a special disco, the Bunny Hop.

Dates: 25 – 28 March
Times: Various
Tickets: Prices vary, see website for details
Address: Epping Ongar Railway, Ongar Station, Station Approach, Ongar, Essex CM5 9BN
Further information: Epping Ongar Railway website 01277 365200

EASTER EGG HUNT, RIVER LEE COUNTRY PARK FARM

As you hunt for Easter Eggs you can also take a look at the new spring arrivals that have arrived on the farm. You can meet cuddly sheep, giant rabbits, rare breed pigs, long-necked llamas and a loveable Meerkat family. Plus, take a trip on Tex the Tractor to the working dairy farm and let your little ones run wild in the indoor and outdoor play areas.

Dates: 25 – 28 March
Times: 10am – 5pm
Tickets: Normal farm entrance fees apply
Address: River Lee Country Park Farm, Stubbins Hall Lane, Waltham Abbey, EN9 2EF
Further information: River Lee Country Park website

FAMILY WOODLAND EASTER EGG HUNT, HAINAULT COUNTRY PARK

Earn your Easter egg by following the trail, finding the clues and solving the woodland puzzle.

Dates: Easter Saturday 26 March
Times: 12 noon – 3pm
Tickets: Booking essential, £2 per child payable by cash on arrival
Address: Hainault Country Park, Romford Road, Chigwell, IG7 4QY
Further information: Woodland Trust website

EASTER EGGSTRAVAGANZA, BLAKE HOUSE CRAFT CENTRE

There will be Easter fun for two days at the Craft centre with Easter Crafts, an Easter egg hunt, bouncy castles, pygmy hedgehogs, biscuit decorating, stalls and more.

Dates: 26-27 March
Times: 10am – 4pm
Tickets: Money raised is for the McDonald House Charity
Address: Blake House Craft Centre, Blake End, Braintree, CM77 6RA
Further information: Blake House Craft Centre website

EASTER FUN, QUEEN ELIZABETH HUNTING LODGE/THE VIEW

There will be lots of Easter activities on offer  including egg decorating and Easter crafts. There will be egg rolling at 2pm and an Easter trail with clues through the woodland as well as a chance to meet the Easter Bunny.

Dates: 27 March Easter Sunday
Times: From 2pm
Tickets: No booking necessary, just turn up. Recommended donation £2 per child to help them as a charity to maintain Epping Forest
Address: Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge/The View, Rangers Road, Chingford E4 7QH
Further information: Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge website

EASTER EGG HUNT, COPPED HALL

The hall will be open for the afternoon until 5pm and children can join an Easter Egg hunt and meet the Easter bunny while enjoying the spring flowers in bloom in the gardens. Tea and coffee and homemade cakes will be available and the gift shop will be open until 4pm.

Dates: 27 March Easter Sunday
Times: 2pm-4pm
Tickets: £5 per person, Egg Hunt 50p per child taking part
Address:  Copped Hall, Crown Hill, Epping, CM16 5HS
Further information: Copped Hall Trust website

EASTER DUCK HUNT, GRANGE FARM CHIGWELL

The Essex Wildlife Trust is running a duck hunt where children can search Chigwell Meadows for ducklings to win a prize. There will also be the chance to make Easter crafts to take home.

Dates:27 March Easter Sunday & 28 March Easter Monday
Times: 10AM- 1PM
Tickets: Drop in session, no need to book
Address: Chigwell Meadows, The Grange Farm Centre, Chigwell, Essex, IG7 6DP
Further information: Essex Wildlife Trust Website

EASTER EGG TRAIL, GIBBERD GARDEN HARLOW

This Modernist Grade II listed garden run by volunteers is only open on Sundays and on Easter Sunday there will be an Easter Egg trail for the whole family. There’ll be children’s activities and refreshments available in the Barn Tea Room.

Dates: 27 March Easter Sunday
Times: 2pm – 6pm
Tickets: Adults £4, Concessions £3, Children (5-16) £1 and under 5s are free
Address: The Gibberd Garden, Marsh Lane, Harlow, Essex CM17 0NA
Further information: The Gibberd Garden website

EASTER COUNTRY FAIR, RIVER LEE COUNTRY PARK

There’s a huge range of entertainment on all day which includes Knights of the Damned Jousting Team, birds of prey flying displays, The Suffolk Punch Heavy Horse Display Team, The Goat Show including bottle feeding lambs & kids, Miniature Pony Display, Terrier Racing, children’s entertainment with Devilstick Peat, ferret racing plus arts, crafts & gift marquees.

Also on Monday at this event, they’ll be a Companion Dog Show – so bring along a canine friend and have a go. (And all proceeds from entries will go to Marie Curie Cancer Care).

Dates: 27 March Easter Sunday and 28 March Easter Monday
Times: 10am – 5pm
Tickets: no need to book in advance, £7.50, concessions £6, children age 5-16 £ 3,
Family Ticket: £,19 (2 adults and 2 children). Children under 5 are free. Free parking available.
Address: River Lee Country Park Farm, Fishers Green Car Park, Stubbins Hall Lane, Waltham Abbey, EN9 2EF
Further information: Oakleigh Fairs website 

PETER RABBIT EASTER EGG HUNT, FOYLES WESTFIELD STRATFORD

As part of the Beatrix Potter 150th Celebrations, this Easter Foyles are hosting a Peter Rabbit Egg Hunt. Join Peter on his adventure to find the ten eggs hidden in-store. There will be activity sheets to colour-in and stickers to take home if you can spot all the missing eggs. Throughout the day there will also be an egg decorating workshop set up in the children’s section, which you can just turn up to.

Dates: 28 March Easter Monday
Times: There will two sessions 11am-12noon and 3-4pm.
Tickets: To register email events@foyles.co.uk with the  session you would like to attend.
Address: Olympic Park, Montfichet Rd, London E20 1EJ
Further information: Westfield Stratford website

What’s on in West Essex this October half term: Monday 26th – Friday 30th October 2015

It’s finally starting to feel like Autumn and the October half term will be here before you know it. So here’s some inspiration for child-friendly activities and things to do around West Essex and London.

ALL WEEK

MICHAEL ROSEN’S BEAR HUNT, CHOCOLATE CAKE AND BAD THINGS EXHIBITION, DISCOVER CENTRE STRATFORD

Michael Rosen Going on a Bear Hunt exhibition Discover Centre Stratford

Opening on Friday 16th October, this interactive family exhibition at the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford is suitable for children for both to 11 years old. I’m sure we’re one of millions of parents across the country who end up reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt on repeat so this is bound to be a popular exhibition. There’s even a Bear Hunt trail for younger children to swishy swashy and stumble trip through. It’s not only the work of he much-loved children’s author Michael Rosen that features in the exhibition but even things that provided inspiration for his writing such as his grandparents sitting room and his classroom. You can also step inside a humungous chocolate cake and explore the Bad Things in the Dread Shed. There’s also a chance for older children to create their own poems and find out some fun facts about Michael Rosen as they go around the exhibition.

Price: £5 per adult or child, £18 family of 4, free for under 2s
Opening Times: During half term and weekends you’ll need to book one of the following slots: 10.20 (half term only), 11.20am, 12.20, 1.20, 2.20, 3.15 and 4.15pm. Then during term time you can drop in on weekdays between 3-5pm and there is no need to pre-book.
Address: Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London E15 4QZ
Further information: Discover Centre website

VARIOUS DRAWING & STORYTELLING EVENTS,  V&A MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD BETHNAL GREEN

Daily drawing drop in sessions which take children on an adventure around the museum and are suitable for all ages. Illustrator Salvatore Rubbion, author of A Walk in London will be running the Explore and Draw sessions on Monday and Wednesday. Using drawing and collage children will help to create a long fold-out picture exploring the special things about the capital. Illustrator Heidi Deedman will be helping children create their own Toy Stories, a book and story inspired by the real toys from the Museum’s collection on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
The Enchanted Forest Toy Theatre Workshop will be a chance to create your own story in a quintessential magical setting with illustrator Frances Barry who will help you draw trees, characters and creatures.

Price: Most are free but the Explore and Draw, Toy Stories, Enchanted Forest Toy Theatre workshop all cost £5 (with parent or carer) and you can sign up on the day. These three activities are most suitable for ages 5 – 12 years.
Opening Times: Activities 11am – 4pm, museum is open daily from 10.00am to 5.45pm (last admission 5.30pm)
Address: V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA
Further information: V&A Museum of Childhood website

SPOOKY SECRET ISLAND, ROYAL GUNPOWDER MILLS WALTHAM ABBEY

Spooky Secret Island, Royal Gunpowder Mills

Professor Nitrate’s evil twin Dr Gore will be hosting science shows and cooking up some diabolical experiments, much to the amazement of all those present in his crazy Mad-Lab.

An array of frightfully fantastic activities will be available for all ages. Try hat and mask making to transform yourself into a witch, monster or other spooky character for the day. Be prepared to get messy with some ooey-gooey monster slime making, freaky monster skin, and make gruesome discoveries in the feely boxes.

Price: Adults £8.77, children £6.97
Opening Times: 10am – 5pm (last entry 3 pm)
Address: Royal Gunpowder Mills, Beaulieu Drive, Waltham Abbey, Essex, EN9 1JY
Further information: Royal Gunpowder Mills website

MONDAY 26 OCTOBER

FESTIVAL OF STORIES, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD

This special half term event for children 3 years and upwards features local authors hosting talks and workshops on storywriting, illustrations and craft activities.

Michael Rosenberg, author of Chilly Goes to Australia, will be carrying out hour long readings and workshops at 11.30, 12.45 and 2.00. And Julia Habgood, who wrote and illustrated Esmeralda and the Prancing Parasols, will be sharing her wealth of knowledge on drawing and illustrating in her 45 minute workshops, followed by 15 minute readings from her debut published childrens book, also at 11.30, 12.45 and 2.00.

Price: Free entry and no need to book
Opening Times: 11am-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

TUESDAY 27 OCTOBER

PRESENTING BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, VALENTINE’S MANSION &  GARDENS ILFORD

Spooky storytelling Dracula may well be getting the audience involved and they recommend coming dressed in your scariest Halloween outfit for a spine chilling visit to Valentines. Suitable for all ages.

Price: £5 per child (maximum 1 adult per child), Pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 2pm – 2.40pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

WEDNESDAY 28 OCTOBER

GHOULISH SPIDERS, PUMPKINS & GHOSTS, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD

There’s a chance to get creative and make your own pom-pom spiders, pumpkins and ghosts to decorate your home with this Halloween. Suitable for children 4 years and over.

Price: £5 per child, pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 10am-11am
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

HALLOWEEN LANTERNS, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD
Have fun transforming old jars into amazing Halloween decorations, guaranteed to create a spooky atmosphere at home! Suitable for ages 4 years and older.

Price: £5 per child, pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 2pm-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

FAMILY ASTRONAUT: COMETS & METEORS, EPPING FOREST FIELD CENTRE

An illustrated presentation on Comets and Meteors: their relationship and how to observe them. Audience participation with practical activities and time for questions. Given clear skies, there will be the chance to observe some notable objects with a 15cm Newtonian reflecting telescope. Take appropriate clothing and footwear in case the ground is muddy. Suitable for children aged 8 and over (must be accompanied by an adult).

Price: £6 per person, booking required.  Email enquiries.ef@field-studies-council.org or ring 020 8502 8500.
Opening Times: 6pm – 8pm
Address: Epping Forest Field Centre, Paul’s Nursery Road, High Beach, Loughton, IG10 4AF
Further information: Field Studies Council website

THURSDAY 29 OCTOBER

PUMPKIN CARVING, THE VIEW EPPING FOREST 

Join us at The View for an afternoon of pumpkin carving. From jack-o-lanterns to spooky faces, learn how to create a design that will impress any trick or treaters – with prizes for best-carved designs!

Price: £5 for a pumpkin and tealight, and a free hot or cold drink. £3.95 if you bring your own pumpkin. £1 for non-carvers. Booking required (2 hour time slots) call 020 7332 1911.
Opening Times: 10am – 3pm
Address: The View, 6 Ranger’s Road, Epping Forest E4 7QH
Further information: For more information and to book, please contact The View on 020 7332 1911. The View website

FOREST FAMILIES: FREAKY FOREST, EPPING FOREST FIELD CENTRE

Join in with creepy crafts, monstrous makes and a spooky scavenger hunt in the forest. While siblings of all ages are welcome, the activities are aimed at children aged 5-11. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear in case the ground is muddy.

Price: Children £4, adults £2, booking required.  Email enquiries.ef@field-studies-council.org or ring 020 8502 8500
Opening Times: 10am-noon
Address: Epping Forest Field Centre, Paul’s Nursery Road, High Beach
Further information: Field Studies Council website

If you know of any other events that you think local mums should know about just leave a comment below or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

Child friendly cafés: Butler’s Retreat, Chingford Plain Epping Forest

Remember the days when you could spend a few hours in a coffee shop reading the weekend papers over eggs and coffee? Well those pre-children days are a distant dream, now it’s all about child-friendly cafes that will take one, or god forbid two buggies and if you’re really lucky, not only welcome families but are actually enjoyable places for the little people too. These are surprisingly hard to find.

Butlers Retreat cafe Chingford Plain Epping Forest

One café that we return to time and time again is the child-friendly Butler’s Retreat café on Chingford Plain. The location is definitely the main draw on the edge of Epping Forest but the great coffee and yummy food keeps us coming back. We usually park by the lake at Connaught Water and walk up the hill or in the car park opposite Butler’s Retreat and even a small bit of walking in the forest gives me the perfect excuse to justify lots of cake.

THE FOOD
Butler’s Retreat is run independently by the same people who own The Larder in Wanstead (another very child-friendly café with a small kids play area) and another café in Bethnal Green. Like its other outlets, it focuses on organic and ethically produced produce where possible with things like fish pies, sandwiches, soups and breakfasts. As you’d expect from a place serving lots of homemade and organic food, it isn’t cheap but the cakes are divine (a recent passion fruit tart was amazing and my son loves the blueberry muffins stuffed with plenty of fruit). We like to go for brunch at the weekend and breakfast is served until 11.30am and I’d recommend the lovely smoky beans.

The children’s menu is small but a welcome departure from the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips. For breakfast, there is porridge with honey and fruit or a small fry up. Lunch is salmon and smoked haddock pie, lamb kebab with chickpea salad with humous and minted yoghurt, handmade sausages with peas and wedges or orecchitte pesto pasta and prices range from £2.90 – £6.50. There’s also a toddler section with cheese on toast (£2.90) or a mini fish pie with greens (£3.40). And they have a selection of child-friendly snacks and drinks, such as Bear fruit snacks and Pom Bear crisps.

boy on tree stumps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

CHILD-FRIENDLY FACILITIES
Obviously the forest is the real draw here and most of the seats are outside either at the front or benches around the back looking out over Chingford Plain. Personally, with kids I prefer the back as it is away from the road and most importantly they can play nearby while you sit and chat. While there is no traditional play equipment there are two mini hills with wooden steps and wooden logs for toddlers to run up and down on. Admittedly this doesn’t sound like much but it keeps my son amused for ages and he usually has to be dragged away. There are often older children playing nearby with balls, Frisbees or kites in windy weather.

boy on tree stumps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

For rainy or colder days there are seats inside and an area upstairs that I believe is available for private hire for christenings, parties etc.

There are a number of high chairs available both inside and out and a changing table in the female bathroom upstairs. If you’re outside there is loads of room for multiple buggies so it is a good place to congregate with other families to eat before or after a walk in Epping forest.

As I mentioned, there is a car park on the opposite side of the road to the café and an overflow is opened in the field next to it during busy periods.

boy on wooden steps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

The café is next to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge that was built by Henry VIII in the 16th century and is slice of local history worth a visit. Next door to that is The View visitor centre which has maps and staff on hand to give you information about the forest and local walks. There is also an interactive nature exhibition which little people will love. There are lots of buttons to press, natural soundscapes and stuffed animals that reside in the Forest and there’s even a little shop that has information about local events in the area. If your child is older it’s definitely worth picking up the guide leaflets as there are conservation days and craft events to encourage children to get closer to nature.

Opening times: Until 30th September open everyday from 9am – 6pm and kitchen closes at 4pm.
Breakfast is served daily until 11.30am and then lunch is from midday (so watch out for that half an hour gap!).
Note: The Lodge and the view will be closed on Mondays from 5 October 2015

More information: Butler’s Retreat website
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge website
The View Visitor Centre website

Have you visited Butler’s Retreat? I’d love to know what you think so please add your comment below or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

I’ll be reviewing more child-friendly cafes and restaurants in the area soon, so let me know if you’d like to suggest one of your favourites.

What’s on in West Essex this bank holiday weekend: Friday 28 – Monday 31 August

ALL WEEKEND

BEACH EAST, OLYMPIC PARK STRATFORD

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

It’s your final chance to visit the UK’s largest urban beach if you haven’t done so already, as Beach East closes on Monday. The kids will love the sand, paddling pool and fairground rides all within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and close to Westfield. Read my full review of Beach East here and my advice is to get there early and bring you own picnic to avoid the expensive food on site.

Price: Entrance is free and rides are £2-£4
Opening times: 10am – 10pm
Address: Stratford Waterfront, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, next to Westfield E15 2DU
More information: West Essexs Mums review or Beach East website.

OLIVER JEFFERS EXHIBITION, DISCOVER CHILDREN’S STORY CENTRE STRATFORD

Oliver Jeffers real life rocket at Discover Centre Stratford

If the weather is true to bank holiday form, there may be some rain to contend with this weekend. If so, it’s the final few weeks of the current interactive exhibition at the Discover Centre in Stratford featuring the work of the brilliant children’s author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. My son loves his ‘How To Catch a Star’ book so I’m feeling bad I haven’t taken him yet so I’m keen to get down there before it closes on the 6th September as friends have told me it’s great. The magical worlds of his books are brought to life and you can take a trip to the seaside, row a boat and make friends with an alien and a penguin. There are also activities for children aged 0-11 years old.

Price: Free for under 2s, £5 for adults and children, £18 for a family of 4
Opening Times: 11am – 5pm
Address: 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London E15 4QZ
More information: Discover Children’s Story Centre website

SUNDAY 30 AUGUST & MONDAY 31 AUGUST

MINIATURE STEAM & ELECTRIC TRAIN RIDES, RIDEGWAY PARK CHINGFORD

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 15.26.15All aboard! On Sunday and Monday afternoons you’ll be able to take a miniature steam train ride at the back of Ridgeway Park. A friend of mine takes her little boy quite regularly but we’ve yet to give it a go so this could be  good option for Monday. It’s run by the Chingford & District Model Engineering Club and prices are pretty reasonable with free parking in the park and on local streets.

Price: Kids under 3 are free with a fare paying adult, costs depend on the track in use but are 60p or £1.50.
Opening times: From 2pm – 5.30pm
Address: back of Ridgeway Park, Chingford. E4 6XU. (Near the Green Man pub near the top of Chingford Mount)
More information: Chingford & District Model Engineering Club website

SUNDAY 30 AUGUST

FUN DAY SUNDAY FEATURING MINI BEASTS, VALENTINE’S MANSION AND GARDENS

ladybirdAs part of their regular Fun Day Sunday, this weekend the family-friendly drop in session will focus on mini beasts. You’ll be able to make bee finger puppets, rocking snails, butterfly masks and ladybird crowns. You’ll also be able to explore the Valentine’s gardens to see how many mini beasts you can find living there.

Price: free entry, no need to book you can just turn up
Opening Times: 11am-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA,UK
More Information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

MONDAY 31 AUGUST

THEYDON BOIS FAMILY FUN DAY, ST MARY’S CHURCH

Part of the flower festival that is on all weekend at the church, the family fun day will involve children’s games, a bouncy castle, a BBQ and other refreshments as well as stalls.

Opening Times: 10.30am-4.30am
Address: Between Coppice Row and Piercing Hill, Theydon Bois, CM16 7DN.
More information: St Mary’s Church website

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Review: Beach East at Olympic Park, Stratford

I was really excited to hear that the UK’s largest urban beach was opening just down the road in Stratford, so this week we headed down to Beach East at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to check it out.

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Luckily, the weather was warm and sunny on the morning we visited as this definitely helps with the beach vibe! I parked in Westfield shopping centre but you could also park at the Aquatic Centre or get the tube or bus to Stratford. We arrived just after it opened at about 10am and though it was fairly quiet when we arrived, it quickly filled up and by the time we left the place was getting pretty rammed. Obviously, with schools just breaking up this is to be expected but this was a weekday, so afternoons and weekends are going to be super busy.

boy on Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

The ‘beach’ is basically a little complex near the aquatic centre with fun fair rides, food stalls, picnic areas and a large sandy area complete with paddling pool. You do have to walk past a lot of rides to get to the beach area so the pestering starts straight away. However, if you can drag your kids past that the sand was lovely and clean and we brought along a bucket and spade which is always good for simple but effective entertainment of toddlers.

boy playing in sand at Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

While there are some food outlets as I’ve mentioned, they are selling stuff like hotdogs, chips and other fast food so if you’re trying to be a bit healthier or just want to save money you are allowed to bring in your own food and drink (although no glass bottles etc). Personally my little one is so fussy at the moment that I resent paying out for food he’ll barely eat so we packed a little picnic to eat on the beach. A few mouthfuls got eaten before he wanted to run around and play in the sand again. But if you can get them to sit still for long enough a rug is a good idea. There are a few deck chairs but these did all get commandeered by  10 am and they are not very comfortable for little ones. Be warned though – that fine sand gets into everything – gritty sandwiches ahoy! We had packed the swimming stuff for our little ones but they didn’t seem that interested and frankly, I was pretty glad because it was getting very busy with older kids as time went on. But if your kids are a bit older, I’m sure they’ll be desperate to have a splash about and a paddle in the water.

boy near food stalls Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

As soon as we arrived, my little one had spotted a ride with little cars so he spent most of the morning talking about the green car and attempting to run off to have a go. Most of the rides suitable for younger children seem to cost £2 but others go up to £4 and you need to buy tokens at the kiosk first. Despite initially enjoying sitting in the car, when the ride started it did go round the corner quite fast and my little one got a bit scared and started to cry. It was all a bit heartbreaking as I couldn’t get him out of the car until the ride stopped but my friend’s son of the same age was fine so, as ever, who knows how your toddler will react! However, I did notice the lady running it let some younger children on and quite a few of them seemed to be crying! So I’d suggest watching some kids go round on the rides first to get a sense of it and what age group they are and if you think your child would enjoy it (of course this is no guarantee with the unpredictable little monkeys!). There are lots of other rides for older children, such as mini roller coasters and swing seats that all look great fun – although I can imagine it could quickly get expensive.

boy in toy car at Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Apart from the unsuccessful ride, we had a lovely morning there and when the sun was shining it definitely felt like we were on a beach and it had a distinctly holiday vibe. As it is open until 10pm and has bars, we decided it would be an interesting place to go on a date night for something different on a  warm summers evening. Not that we actually ever go out on date nights, but if you are the kind of parents that can get your shit together to do that I’m sure it would be fun!

Beach East is open until 31st August 2015. It’s open from 10am – 10pm and entry is free. You can bring your own food and drink and pushchairs but no dogs.

Beach East website

Address: Stratford Waterfront, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, next to Westfield E15 2DU

Have you been to Beach East? I’d love to know what you thought of it, just add your comment below.